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| 1 minute read

Blurring the lines: The ethics of host-read advertising on podcasts

The FT published an interesting article yesterday on the issues raised by host-read advertising on podcasts. It poses the question as to whether it is right that podcast hosts can segue seamlessly from discussing their chosen subjects to reading an advertisement, and thereby exploit their relationship with listeners? In the listener's mind it is arguably tantamount to an endorsement of the marketer's product, which no doubt partly explains why host-read ads command far higher prices (CPM) than standard ads. Whilst there is growing scrutiny into the ethics of podcast advertising, at what point does the blurring of content and marketing promotions become illegal in the UK?

All advertising on podcasts in the UK is subject to the CAP Code. While there are different types of ads (e.g., paid-for-space), under Rule 2.1 they must all be "obviously identifiable" as ads. Under Rule 2.3, the podcast must make clear upfront the "commercial intent" of the advertisement. 

Last year, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that a podcast ad for Huel, heard in March 2022, during an episode of Steven Bartlett’s podcast "The Diary Of A CEO", was not obviously identifiable, because it was only differentiated from the editorial content by the sound of a page turning and the presenter stating “Quick one” at the start and “Back to the podcast” at the end (Huel Ltd, 10 August 2022). The page-turning sound effect and the statement "Quick one" were insufficient to make it obvious that it was a segue to advertising material. The ASA told both parties that, the commercial intent of all future ads on the podcast should be made clear by, for example, including a clear identifier such as "Ad", "Advert" or "Advertisement". There should also be a "clearly and audibly identified" break to any ad from editorial content. 

Podcast advertising is big business. In the US alone, revenues hit $1.8bn in 2022, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and are expected to more than double to $4bn by 2025. “Programmatic ads” that use algorithms to target individuals and so are different for each listener and provided by third parties have increased in recent years. But host-read ads are still the most common: they made up 55 per cent of all podcast advertising in 2021, according to the IAB. They also command higher rates, because they are thought to lend trust and “authenticity” to the advertising.


media, advertising